TWO-SPIRITED PEOPLE


I am often asked whether there were Two-Spirited people  in tribal communities prior to European contact. Short Answer: Absolutely. In fact, they were integral parts of tribal life back before recorded time. It was all rather normal; there was no shame, no blame. We have a long and venerable history when it comes to embracing special people and it gave those tribes with two-spirited people bragging rights as being privileged to have them in their midst. (Photo above: Crow couple).

In many tribal communities, Two Spirited people were considered a
gift because they had the responsibility of carrying two spirits in service to the tribe. Therefore, they were revered, respected and cared for because they were often, healers, visionaries, spirit doctors, traditional teachers, and yes...even warriors!

In other words, they were gifts from the upper world and came to the secular world as gender mediators. They were peacemakers who helped settle the earth in kindness, serenity and positive strength.

They carried much responsibility which is why it was believed that only a few very special people were strong enough to carry the medicine. So, you see, First Nations people were once again, far ahead of the pack when it came to understanding that all tribal members were respectd for their talents and gifts, and the tribes hummed for a millenia.



The homophobia that exists today inside and outside tribal communities finds its source in a variety of reasons:

 

Christianity and the hell and damnation associated with so-called deviant behaviour, is led ironically enough by the Catholic Church, who have much to atone for. The ongoing revelations of priestly pedophilia is all over the news.  Oscar's Best Picture of the year was on the very subject of priestly deviance. It seems to me that before firing cannon shots at others, ones own Vatican house should be in order and held to the highest standard. Also, the automatic correlation between pedophilia and homosexuality is misplaced and completely wrong.

 

Moreover, refusing to understand tribal cultural history, and choosing to believe negative information not based in truthful fact often leads to the outright ostracization of people who do not deserve such derision and contempt. Accepting another`s biases and fears, not making independent informed decisions results in misguided and often deliberate misunderstandings. Is this not how wars are started, by the miscreant actions of a few perpetrated on the many. As well, when good people stand by and let it happen, with the tired phrase, "I don't want to get involved", then, in this case, homophobia is the inevitable result.

 

Finally, the truth about First Nations two-spirited history cannot and must not be rewritten in order to satisfy the narrow biases and comfort levels of the ill-informed. It is in the DNA of First Nations people to accept and celebrate all members in our world. DO IT! Time grows short for us to be each other`s throats.  Everyone is needed.

 

TWO SPIRITED PEOPLE - MCGILL PROJECT

Two-spirited person is a Native tradition that  anthropologists have dated back to some of the earliest discoveries of Native artifacts. Much evidence indicates that Native people, prior to colonization and contact with European cultures, believed in the existence of three genders: male, female and male-female, or what we now call the Two-Spirited person. The term "Two-spirited", though relatively new, was derived from interpretations of Native languages used to describe people who displayed both characteristics of male and female. (photo above: Navajo).

 

Traditionally, the two spirited person was one whoLydia Nibley�s had received a give from Creator, that gift being the privilege to house both male and female spirits in their bodies. The concept of two-spirited related to today's designation of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons of Native origins. Being given the gift of two-spirits meant that this individual had the ability to see the world from two perspectives at the same time. This greater vision was a gift to be shared with all, and as such, two-spirited beings were revered as leaders, mediators, teachers, artists, seers and spiritual guides. They were treated with the greatest respect, and held important spiritual and ceremonial responsibilities.

 

The arrival of the Europeans was marked by the imposition of foreign views and values on Native spirituality, family life and traditions. The mission churches' views on sexuality, for example, created many new taboos. Many traditions, including that of the two-spirited were eradicated or at least driven underground from many (but not all) tribes of North America. Once honoured, some of today's two-spirited people have been shamed, beaten, killed, isolated and driven from their homes. Dr. Terry Tafova, a sexologist, storyteller and diversity educator from the Taos Pueblo Nation has warned, "our communities cannot survive if we cut off parts of ourselves." Along with others, he has called for the restoration of the inclusion of two-spirited people back into the circle of original belonging. It is not an accident that two-spirited people are once again emerging in their communities at the same time and in the same way that the drum, the pipe, the sweatlodge, the medicines and other sacred aspects of community and culture life are returning.

 

As a result of colonization, most two-spirited people, their families, and the knowledge keepers in their communities today, hold little or no knowledge of the many rich and diverse traditions which recognized, valued and benefited from the special gift these individuals had been given. In consequence, two-spirited people are not able to take their rightful place in their communities. This is a loss to all Native people.

 


 

Two-spirited people were integral parts of most tribal communities. Spanish explorers  reported seeing two-spirited people in almost very tribe. They condemned them as evil and a scourge upon the earth. They were treated as hetero-gender and were respected as well held in awe because of the power of their magic and healing skills. Many of these people were medicine persons. It is the European influence that changed the status.

 

Rather than emphasizing the homosexuality of these persons, however, many Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today, tend to see a person's basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus, they are honoured for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female. Therefore, many Native American religions, rather than stigmatising such persons, often looked to them as religious leaders and teachers

  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/oct/11/two-spirit-people-north-america) - Photo right is We-Wa a Zuni weaver.

 

NOTE: It is worth repeating that to focus on a person's character was ordinary behaviour in the tribes. It wasn't just on two-spirited people, but all members of the community.  Again, NORMAL!

 

The Din 'h (Navaho) have a lovely word, "N'dleeh which means "One who is transformed".

 

 

 

"Many tribes practiced what was initially known to westerner's as the Berdache which...is a French word adopted from 'Bardaj' which means an intimate male friend. Put simply: Prior to the arrival of westerners an estimated two-thirds of the tribes dealt with homosexuals, through a variety of cross-gender rituals, in which feminine boys and, in some cases, masculine girls would be declared to possess the souls of the opposite gender, and would undergo a variety of tests and ceremonies to reposition them as members of said gender for social purposes. The wide rage of cultural variations among tribes makes Balderdash of sweeping generalizations, and the nature of such traditions differed from tribe to tribe,...It is important to note that even among Native Americans who practiced such traditions, male same-sex relationships between adult men were not simply accepted as such, but were instead ritualized to make one partner the 'woman' of the pairing, and therefore no longer a threat to the community." (site unknown). Photo, right, Navajo couple.

 

UPDATE - BRITISH NEWSPAPER - THE TELEGRAPH, JULY 29, 2013

In a broad-ranging 80-minute conversation with journalists on the plane bringing him back from a week-long visit to Brazil, Pope Frances defended gays from discrimination, but also referred to the Catholic Church's universal Catechism, which says that while homosexual orientation is not sinful, homosexual acts are.

 

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" the pope said.

 

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society," he said, speaking in Italian.

 

The Telegraph's Damian Thompson says that the Pope's comments are "very significant." (Note: In other words gay is okay but no sex)

 

"They don't change Catholic teaching but they do alter the atmosphere very much. It seems that there will be no longer a witch-hunt to stop celibate gay men from entering seminaries, which had been the situation.

 

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH & ITS ART

Ironically both Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were quite open about expressing their preference for young men. Leonardo, used to surround himself with handsome hunks that he used as models in some of his greatest works, included John the Baptist.  No condemnation from the church has ever been forthcoming. Ironic given they created some of the most famous religious art in the Vatican.

 

Jonathon Jones, Art Blog, The Guardian, London

 

"Is there no escape from this issue? Remembering that some art historians deny the so-called "calumny" that Caravaggio and his clerical patrons were gay, perhaps the Pope might visit the Roman church of San Luigi dei Francesi to look on this master's paintings of St Matthew. But the demons of desire cannot be suppressed. The naked male flesh in Caravaggio's paintings tells its own story. By the time Caravaggio came to Rome in the 1590s, Leonardo and Michaelangelo not to mention the aptly named Italian painter Il Sodoma had already blazed a gay trail through the art of the Holy City. Caravaggio made art dangerous and exciting again by taking that homosexual impulse to new extremes."

 

 

INTERESTING LINKS

 

http://www.mcgill.ca/interaction/mission/twospirit/

 

http://www.dancingtoeaglespiritsociety.org/twospirit.php

 

http://www.jersvision.org  

 

 

 

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